American Apostate: About Christmas


I love Christmas.

Okay, so, slightly macabre, but make it festive.

That may sound strange coming from someone who left the church, but seriously, I love Christmas. It is my second favorite holiday of the year (with the first being Halloween, naturally). The weekend after Thanksgiving all the autumn decor goes away and the tree comes out. My husband rolls his eyes and gets out of my way. The kids help decorate the main tree according to whatever theme I’ve picked for the year (yes, I have enough ornaments to choose different themes), and then we have a second, smaller tree that goes in the family room that they get to decorate with whatever’s leftover. We don’t really have a lot of outdoor decor, but that’s in part because our house is in the back corner of a weird little cul de sac and surrounded by bushes and trees. You can’t see our house from the street, so we keep it light. Though I do have the most adorable tinsel narwhal. He lives on our porch.

Recently, The Southern Jew put out a reflection on the perpetuation of Christian culture by former Christians and non-Christians through the celebration of Christmas. I found the write up to be interesting enough to start following them on Facebook, although they did make the point that the only reason they created the FB page was to share the write up, because so many people had asked to share it and they didn’t want their personal information out in the world. They have since deleted the page, and I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that it’s because they received angry pushback from the internet, because we have an overabundance of trolls these days. So, sadly, I cannot direct you to or quote what they discussed, but we’re going to talk a little about the gist of it.

They spoke about the monster that is commercial Christmas, and touched on how originally Hanukkah was not that big of a holiday in the Jewish community, but has been inflated over the years to compete with Christmas. The author asked for a little accountability from non-believers who continued to participate in Christmas, and therefore continued to perpetuate this beast of a holiday that (in the US at least) is admittedly a corporate monster and a little out of control. The clinging to Christmas also perpetuates the image that the US is a Christian nation, for all that many people celebrate Christmas secularly. So I wanted to talk about why I, as an apostate, continue to celebrate Christmas.

Tradition plays a big role in it. I was raised a Methodist, with a lot of Catholic and European influences in my childhood. Christmas Eve dinner is a big deal, and was often the one of the few times of year we broke out traditional Polish foods that my grandparents loved. There’s actually a funny story about how, after my grandmother passed, my mother finally confessed she didn’t like śledź w śmietanie (pickled herring in sour cream) and I was just beside myself for, like, an hour. It was always about food and family, however. We attended candlelight services on Christmas Eve when I was younger, but they tended to be short things that were just a nice time to see my friends from Sunday school (or the preacher’s son who had a crush on me – it was not reciprocated, but he was a nice enough friend). And then we got to go home and open a gift – just one, and not a big one – with the rest waiting for Christmas morning. By high school we were barely still attending church (and would stop before my junior year), but dinner and family time were still very important parts of the holiday.

There is glitter IN THE CRANBERRY CURD! *dies*

Also, let’s not overlook the vast importance of the lights and decorations. Christmas is beautiful – sparkling lights, trees full of glass baubles and shimmering tinsel, glittering displays in a rainbow of colors. It is gloriously amazing. And for someone who continues to struggle with seasonal depression, Christmas is an intense uplift during a dark and gray time of year. I really need something this bright and happy in February to get me through the rest of the rainy season (don’t say Valentine’s Day, it’s forever tainted by bad movies and societal expectations). And the food! So much amazing food is paraded before us during this time of year, and it’s fun to look up recipes and try new things. I bought a Cranberry White Chocolate tart from Trophy Cupcakes this year. It’s the most gorgeous thing that has ever graced my holiday table, and it was delicious. I also made a twist on the Eton Mess, using chocolate meringues and cherries in a sauce to give it a Black Forest gateau feel and flavor. Not as beautiful, but super tasty.

These parts of the holiday that have so much significance to me, that are so important to me, were never about religion. They’re about family, about festiveness, about finding something beautiful and bright during a dark time. When I started my own family, I originally tried to shift the celebration to the solstice. After all, I spent a while dabbling with Wicca, and while it didn’t stick for many of the same reasons I left the church, I do still retain a number of pagan sympathies and beliefs. But here’s the thing – I was a single mother, with no money, and most of my children’s presents and certainly the big festive dinners all happened at relatives’ houses. On Christmas Eve or Christmas. What little I had the bandwidth to scramble together on 12/20 couldn’t hold a candle to what my family could do on 12/24, and I was already so exhausted it didn’t feel worth it to keep trying.

Things changed, I remarried, the financial situation dramatically improved, but by that point my children’s formative years had been spent celebrating Christmas. Their Christmas is entirely about family and togetherness, and Santa, with no religious overtones. Which, considering all Christmas decor comes from pagan traditions, and it’s only celebrated in December because early Christianity needed a holiday to compete with Saturnalia, kind of works out. Then again, our family donates to food banks and buys presents for kids whose families are struggling, and arguably those are the most Christ-like things you can do during the holiday. Definitely more Christ-like than screaming about Starbucks cups.

I don’t do green trees – if I’m going to have a fake tree, you will KNOW it’s a fake tree.

So, do we perpetuate Christian culture with our secular celebrations? Yeah, a bit. And right now I don’t have an alternative. Christian traditions are very accessible. I’d give Hanukkah a go if I didn’t think my Jewish friends would find it super rude of me (it would really just be an excuse for gelt, latkes, and sufganiyot). Now that my children are almost grown and we’re no longer dependent on my extended family for all holiday cheer, maybe we can start to shift back towards solstice again. It won’t get rid of the tree or the lights, though, so I feel like it doesn’t really matter. I will still be perceived as celebrating Christmas whether I am or not.

Perhaps the answer is just to continue to push the narrative that Christmas has evolved into a secular holiday, and make that more widely pronounced and understood. It will always have religious meaning and connotations for Christians, as it should, but quite frankly they stole the holiday and all its trappings from other religions to begin with, so maybe I’m just taking it back.

American Apostate


I had an idea.

As a writer, I often plumb the depths of my soul and regurgitate it out onto the internet to share with strangers and the three family members who might look at my blog once a year. I have been letting the dust settle on my personal blog for a while as I worked on creative pursuits (more on that another day), but I haven’t had much I really wanted to dig up and examine about myself. Then, gentle reader, 2020 happened. In all its bewildering, excruciating glory. The pandemic, the election, the absolutely bat shit insanity of the evangelical church, all these factors have aligned to cause me to reflect on a topic that I am typically more private about.

I am an apostate. I typically describe myself as agnostic, but I am also an apostate. This lends me a certain perspective. So here is the start of my little project. I’m calling it American Apostate, because I’m an American, and apostasy in America is a strange thing that is both not considered of great consequence and yet simultaneously holds the potential to be very alienating. The chances of my being killed for my apostasy are minimal, but not completely nonexistent. Of course, I am also a “West Coast Liberal Elite” or whatever the favored term is these days, so it’s not a danger I’m exposed to. Regardless, I intend to write a short series of essays on my reflections of the state of the union as a former Christian.

Before we get started, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. So what is apostasy? Let’s ask Mirriam-Webster.

Definition of apostasy

apos·​ta·​sy | \ ə-ˈpä-stə-sē  \plural apostasies

1: an act of refusing to continue to follow, obey, or recognize a religious faith 2: abandonment of a previous loyalty 

Now, what makes me choose the word apostate? Well, for starters, because I like to use words that have meaning. I know, all words have meaning, but hear me out. Just calling myself an agnostic or a non-believer or a non-Christian does not convey my experience of this journey the way calling myself an apostate does. I was baptized. I grew up going to church in your Sunday best. I was in every weird Christmas pageant. I sang in the choir during the Christmas cantata every year once I was old enough for them to let me. I was a wise man and a shepherd in the live nativity on different years. I believed, whole heartedly, until I did not. I spent a year convinced I was damned because I had begun to doubt.

When I was doing my initial research for the project and looking up how the church defined and presented apostasy, I stumbled across Dr. Michael J. Kruger of the Reformed Theological Seminary. I’m not linking to them, because Dr. Kruger is a sanctimonious gentleman who thinks he’s special because he got his PhD from the University of Edinburgh. Something that he says several times is that apostates “seem” to be Christian, and implies that an apostate intentionally deceives those around them and leads them astray. “Apostates are not people who were Christians and then stop being Christians. Apostates were never Christians to begin with and only later did it become apparent that they weren’t Christians.”

Respectfully, Dr. Kruger, kindly stop talking out of your ass. I didn’t spend my life deceiving my family and friends and those around me. This feels akin to when your friend breaks off a toxic relationship and is all, “I never loved them!” and you’re sitting off to the side like, “No, you did, but I appreciate why you need to say that right now.” Christians like Dr. Kruger hold to the belief that we deceived them, because a true child of the Lord would never turn their back on the faith. This, of course, is paradoxical to the teachings that we are all children of God, regardless of belief, but we’ll get to the church and its paradoxes on a different day. Or days. There are a lot of them.

“They were never Christians!” No, we were. I was. And you need to make your peace with that just like I had to.

And so this writing experiment begins. I don’t know how far it will go right now, but I’ve got at least three subjects I am eager to expound upon. I imagine the first of these will find its way up here before that most popular of retail holidays descends.